Goodbye to 2016: One year of victories, losses for our communityby Access Press Staff // January 10th, 2017
Farewell to 2016, a year with many changes for Minnesota’s disability community. Here is our look back:
• A Twin Cities woman with a visual disability received an $185,000 payment from Medical Transportation Management, to resolve a claim of discrimination. The Minnesota Department of Human Rights made a finding of probable cause that discrimination occurred related to the failure to hire a job candidate with a disability.
• The Minnesota Department of Human Services announced a reorganization into three divisions, under newly appointed commission Emily Johnson Piper. The reorganization was touted as a way to improve service delivery.
• The legislative session hadn’t started yet but debate over “death with dignity” legislation was already underway in anticipation of one bill.
• People with disabilities will have an easier time crossing St. Paul streets, as a result of a settlement announced by Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid’s Minnesota Disability Law Center. The city agreed to upgrade curb-cuts for future projects and replace some installed in 2014.
• Pioneering self-advocate Gloria Steinbring drew on her life experiences to become a tenacious champion for the rights of people with disabilities and was remembered after her death for her fierce populist spirit, kind heart and strong loyalty to others. She and her late husband Dean were remembered for their successful fight to be wed.
• RISE celebrated 45 years of service.
Many issues were in play during the Minnesota Legislature’s 2016 session, including proposed changes to MNSure, projects at Minnesota State Academies for the Deaf and the Blind, paratransit, and state security hospital improvements.
• The Best Life Alliance geared up to increase caregiver wages and Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities worked on Medical Assistance reform. A short session meant a tight timeline to get bills heard and legislation passed.
• It was another session of capitol construction, with rallies relocated off-site.
• JoAnn Enos was remembered for her many years of working with disability community groups, her political activism and her commitment to civil rights.
• The 2016 legislative session rolled on. Dozens of measures important to Minnesotans with disabilities hung in the balance including bills on special education, mental health, accessibility, state facilities improvements, children’s services, transportation and more topics. Hundreds attended a rally at the state armory, organized by ARRM and MOHR. Several people tracked down Gov. Mark Dayton afterward.
• A Metro Mobility forum drew dozens of people with comments or concerns about service. Valentina “Val” Barnes was so frustrated with the forum and its lack of public testimony, she sent a letter to state officials asking them to “ride a mile in my life!”
• Minnesota Department of Human Services Commissioner Emily Johnson Piper called for changes at the Anoka Metro Regional Treatment Center, including additional beds for Minnesotans awaiting treatment, security improvements and more nursing staff. That would require funding from state lawmakers. Addressing the needs had been Piper’s focus since starting in the top human services post.
• The May 23 legislative adjournment date loomed with many bills left without any action, including bills that affect Minnesotans with disabilities.
• The Arc Minnesota honored University of Minnesota’s Institute on Community Integration for outstanding public policy work.
• UCare and Minnesota Twins celebrated hundreds of wheelchair-accessible seats at Minneapolis’ Target Field.
• The City of Oakdale paid $30,000 to resolve a probable cause finding of disability discrimination, after the Minnesota Department of Human Rights found that the police department failed to provide effective communication and meaningful access to police services to a deaf citizen, Alan Read. The police department was required to update its policies and procedures.
• The legislative session ended with few gains for Minnesotans with disabilities. Major bills important to the community stalled, forcing delays to a number of initiatives. Hopes were held out for a special session but that didn’t happen.
• PACER Center won a $1 million grant from the Bremer Foundation.
• Minnesotans were urged to weigh in on a new federal rule for home- and community-based services. Meetings were held around the state to seek comment on various waiver services.
• U.S. District Court Judge Donovan Frank issued his latest order on the state’s Olmstead Plan. Frank approved plan updates in the areas of addressing abuse and neglect, and providing more access to assistive technology. He also granted approval to reporting deadlines, goals for
the plan and technical measures.
• Years of fundraising and community organizing came to an end in Woodbury with the dedication of Madison’s Place, one of the largest accessible playgrounds in the area.
• A class action lawsuit centered on management of Minnesota’s Home and Community-Based Waiver Services Program could proceed, a U.S. District Court judge ruled. The court rejected a request by state officials to dismiss the lawsuit, based on deprivation of more than $1 billion in services to people with disabilities.
• Opportunity Partners likely violated a worker’s civil rights when a requested promotion was denied. Minnesota Department of Human Rights Commissioner Kevin Lindsay issued the ruling in the case of Bradford C. Teslow. Lindsay’s finding that there is probable cause in Teslow’s case is considered groundbreaking insofar as how Teslow was treated, because of the national spotlight on workplace inclusion.
• Metro Transit was ordered to provide access to data to a passenger with disabilities and the Minnesota Disability Law Center, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled. Passenger Robert Burks, who is blind, had a disagreement with a bus driver in 2013. He needed data to validate his complaint but faced a long fight to get the information.
• The 2016 Paralympics in Rio de Janerio faced a number of challenges caused by a financial shortfall. Some venues used for the Olympics were closed and events moved. Travel grants also weren’t paid in a timely manner. The problems didn’t discourage the 11 Minnesotans on the United States teams.
• For failing to protect workers from violence, the Minnesota Security Hospital at St. Peter paid a $20,000 fine to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, one of the largest fines ever levied against a state agency. The facility is the state’s largest for psychiatric patients. Workers alleged they were repeatedly put at risk of serious injury or even death, due to violent assaults by patients. The fine covered violations that occurred in 2014-2015.
• National Disability Employment Awareness Month was a time to mark the many contributions of America’s employees with disabilities. 2016 theme is #Inclusion-Works.
• Interact Center for the Arts celebrated 20 years’ service.
• The state announced the relaunch of two programs meant to put people with disabilities to work. Connect 700 allows workers to demonstrate their skills through an on-the-job trial. The Supported Worker Program allows up to three people to share one of 50 full-time government positions. State agencies that sponsor the positions integrate employees into existing teams and will provide job coaches. Gov. Mark Dayton said the state needs to “lead by example” in employing and addressing under-representation of people with disabilities in state government jobs.
• Clifford Poetz, 2016 Access Press Charlie Smith Award winner, used his speech as a call to action for Minnesotans with disabilities.
• Milestones have been reached on issues centering on mental health, waiver services and employment. Minnesotans who faced long waits for waiver services may finally be seeing some relief. State officials announced that a lengthy and longstanding waiting list for waiver service has been eliminated. Families had sued the state.
• The Governor’s Task Force on Mental Health delivered nine recommendations for creating a statewide mental health system. The task force took a comprehensive look at the current mental health system.
• Opportunity Partners agreed to a settlement with state officials in the Teslow case. The result is that its workers can seek regular jobs at a competitive wage.